*** January is the peak month for marriage breakdowns, so how do you make sure love lasts a lifetime? Six happy couples reveal all...
What began as a young barrister and a journalist friend catching up over lunch on Fleet Street blossomed into a marriage that has, to date, lasted 46 years. Sir Paul Coleridge, who as a High Court judge presided over some of Britain’s most bitter divorce cases, is adamant, however, that his long and happy marriage to his wife, Lisa, is not just a question of luck. “The biggest killer of marriage is boredom – people giving up and not bothering to invest – but we have been committed to making it last and work well,” he says.
A cosy, loving “forever” marriage, like his, or that of football manager and I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! star Harry Redknapp and his wife Sandra, who met in a pub in 1964 and have now been married 51 years, is what every couple hopes for when they make their vows – yet the reality is that any child born in Britain today has just a 50 per cent chance of their parents being together on their 15th birthday. More people will file for divorce this month than any other month of the year – among them the world’s richest couple, Jeff and Mackenzie Bezos.
“All marriages start off the same: two people, madly in love, wanting to commit for the rest of their lives,” explains divorce lawyer Ayesha Vardag (vardags.com). “The difference is that those that stay together, work together to preempt and defuse problems, they look after their marriages and themselves.”
“Forever” marriages do not happen by accident, agrees Nicky Lee, who with Sila, his wife of 42 years, devised the Marriage Course (themarriagecourses.org). “You’re both always going in one of three directions: growing apart, on parallel lines or moving towards each other – you’ve got to keep striving for the latter,” he says.
How, though, do you keep the spark alive when your relationship settles in to its inevitable rhythm? Research by the Marriage Foundation suggests a third of divorcing couples blame “drifting apart” for their separation. Coleridge recommends realistic expectations, Sandra Redknapp urges never going to bed on an argument, while life coach Carole Ann Rice (realcoachingco.com) advises risk-taking. “An ability to grow and be flexible as the years go on is the key,” she says.
Even a marriage on the rocks can be revived and go the distance, says barrister Harry Gates, founder of the Divorce Surgery (thedivorcesurgery.co.uk). “Don’t write off your relationship in the thick of parenthood,” he urges. “Ride it out and take stock once you’ve emerged from sleep deprivation. And keep talking. When people stop talking to each other about what is wrong, a relationship starts to break down.”
Romance and intimacy are also key elements, adds Vardag: date nights, weekends away, film nights; remembering what it was that brought you together in the first place. “Adultery never happens in a vacuum – husbands and wives go elsewhere to find what they are not getting at home and that means excitement and interest as well as sex,” she says.
Often, a moment of self-reflection is all it takes to get a relationship back on track. “When you met your partner, you were vivacious, charming, witty, exciting, attractive – it’s important to carrying on being those things they fell in love with, which means doing your own thing, having something new to talk about,” she says.
Don’t overthink your marriage or invest in too much therapy, though, warns Coleridge, who founded Marriage Foundation (marriagefoundation.org.uk) to promote the benefits of marriage and provide relationship education. There is a danger that if you take it to pieces, you might not be able to get it back together again.
“Accept your differences and be quick to forgive and move on,” he says. “I don’t like hearing that marriage is hard work – anything that is worth doing requires some effort.”
I met Kate when I was 23 and she was 19 and I knew within a couple of weeks that she was the woman I wanted to marry. It wasn’t until eight years into our marriage, though, when it went badly downhill, that I realised I needed to do two things to make it work: be kind to her and be her friend. Since then, I’ve always tried to notice Kate and be aware of how she is feeling. KATE: A good relationship lasts because you work at it: there will always be times when it is a nightmare or boring but I always found a reason to hang in there – even if it was just for the children. Now we’ve been together long enough that I know we can always get through bad times – I think you have to close off the idea of opting out if you want a long marriage. HARRY: I once heard Kate say that I never compliment her, so I made a note to myself to do so. She rolled her eyes at the time but now it’s become habit. Kindness is a proactive word, you can’t do it through gritted teeth and passive aggression. KATE: Harry and I are different: I like time and communication, whereas he is quite introverted and prefers touch and actions. Initially I was annoyed by his way of showing love and constantly judging our relationship, certain it was Harry’s fault when things went wrong. HARRY: We have six children and we have enjoyed running our large family together but